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A master of music and medicine

Today's American Story with Bob Dotson comes from Los Angeles, where I found a young man who climbed the ladder of success and found it leaning against the wrong wall. Now he has to choose between a career in Medicine or Music.A lot of us love the spot light. Look at the explosion of personal web pages on the Internet, every one trying for their 15 Megabytes of fame. Robert Gupta is different.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Today's American Story with Bob Dotson comes from Los Angeles, where I found a young man who climbed the ladder of success and found it leaning against the wrong wall. Now he has to choose between a career in Medicine or Music.

A lot of us love the spot light. Look at the explosion of personal web pages on the Internet, every one trying for their 15 Megabytes of fame. Robert Gupta is different. He could be famous, but backed away.

"I don't want to be a Super Star," Gupta told me. "I want to be someone who does music for the love of doing music."

Robert was just a kid when he came to this understanding, after soloing with major orchestras all over the world. But Vivek Gupta, his dad, figured his son's story would be the same as all child prodigies.

"At three he used to flip the channel from Tom and Jerry or other Cartoon channels to PBS and watch the New York Philharmonic play classical music."

Robert sailed through Suzuki, Julliard and Yale. Got his Masters in music at 19.

"I just gobbled it up," he says. "It was something I just loved doing."

His career seemed set, and then last spring Robert did something budding superstars seldom do. He auditioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic without a spotlight. Just one in a crowd of 331 hopefuls applying for two violin jobs. Hidden from the judges, know one knew his history or his name. All they heard was his music."

Concert Master Robert Chalifour: "We were hearing, all day long, the same music, over and over again. But this had a fantastic, live feeling to it. Basically he nailed the audition."

And at 19, became one of the youngest ever to join a major American orchestra.

"You know, this is not the way the story normally goes," I pointed out to him. He chuckled. Oh yeah, I know!"

Music was supposed to be his hobby.

"Musicians make no money!" His dad chimed in. "That's what my conception was."

So, he asked Robert to follow another passion. One that could put groceries on the table. Robert began assisting medical researchers at Harvard and two other colleges, studying Parkinson's disease, the effect of pollution on the brain and how to restore spinal cords.

"I was fascinated by the brain," he says simply.

He got his first college degree in pre-Med, at 17!

I know a lot of doctors who play music. I know very few musicians who can also talk about brain surgery. Why did he pick music over medicine?

"There was something missing," Robert told me. "Some part of my heart wasn't being fulfilled."

"Oh, Nooooo!" his dad laughed with mock horror.

What parent hasn't heard that? Still, his dad thought, "He will never get into the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Forget about it!'"

Now, he's gladly helping his son settle in. The two have been roommates for more than half a year. Until recently, Dad drove him to work. At 19, Robert was too young to rent a car, too busy to buy one. Vivek ran his travel agency from a laptop while waiting for the son who doesn't want to be a super star or a doctor.

"Robert is a true musician," says Vivek. "He plays the violin as if he plays inside his heart."

"Do you think you'll be a doctor some day?" I asked Robert.

"I think it's possible, but I don't think my ladder is now leaning against the wrong wall."

His medical school test scores are so high, he could still have his choice of schools. But for now, Robert seems perfectly happy playing second fiddle.

''I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I love doing this."